Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Learning from Ramadan



If you are reading this article at the time I have published it, Ramadan has just begun.  I am sure all of my Muslim friends reading this need no reminder, but those of us who are not Muslims may not have been aware.

One reason for writing about Ramadan is to make sure you know what it entails and do not inadvertently do anything which might cause your Muslim friends embarrassment.  This blog is all about personal development, and I believe a very important aspect of personal development is to learn to respect the beliefs of others even if you do not share them, and to avoid doing anything which might hurt those around you in any way.

Another reason is that I strongly believe there is much to be learned from the beliefs and practices of those who do not share our own beliefs.  Having studied what happens in Ramadan, and why, I find many things which I think are helpful to anyone learning to become a better person.

So, what actually does happen during Ramadan?  I am not a Muslim, so if any of my Muslim friends spots errors in what I have written, please let me know.  I have taken great care and tried to be accurate, but am happy to correct what I have written if I have misinterpreted anything.

Even my friends who have had little or no contact with those of the Muslim faith probably know one key fact about Ramadan - that it is forbidden to eat or drink from dawn until sunset.  There are some important and practical exceptions to this rule though.  If you are ill, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, or diabetic you do not need to fast.  The same applies if you are travelling.  It is really up to you to decide whether your own circumstances fall within one of those exceptions solidly enough to mean you should eat and / or drink.  Where practical you should then try to fast outside the month of Ramadan to make up for the fact that you could not do so during Ramadan.  Clearly this does not apply where the reason is simply that you are elderly or diabetic.

During Ramadan it is not permissible to make love between dawn and sunset.

Putting these two prohibitions together, this means during the daylight hours you are practising abstinence from what are perhaps the most compelling and enjoyable human pleasures.  Such a practice is a very good discipline for anyone learning to become a better person.  Why?  Certainly not because there is anything wrong with eating, drinking, or making love.  But because learning to practise self-discipline is a very important aspect of personal development.  The more self-discipline you have, the higher up the ladder of personal development you can climb.  Note, though, the important balance introduced in Ramadan.  Are we told to fast and abstain from sex throughout Ramadan?  No, we are not.  Only during daylight hours.  As long as you don't live in Rovaniemi (or even further north) this gives you plenty of time during which you can eat, drink and enjoy making love - every single night of the festival.  I believe balance like this is very important.  Struggling to remain abstinent for days or weeks at a time is really not necessary when learning self control skills.  You are much more likely to be successful if you follow the teachings of the Quran in this regard rather than trying to be completely abstinent, day and night, and perhaps finding your motivation to continue dwindles.

There are also other abstinences which you must observe during your fast, such as swearing, gossiping and lying.  Obviously you are not expected to do any of these things at any time, but it is especially important to abstain from them during Ramadan.  If you do any of those things, or anything else that is clearly wrong, it is as though you have also broken your fast.  You may as well not have bothered to fast in the first place.  In the case of these things you do not have an exemption during the hours of darkness.

Ramadan is not, though, simply about abstinence.  During Ramadan a good Muslim thinks deeply about his or her faith.  It is a time for spiritual development, a time to purify your heart and soul.  The time that would otherwise be spent eating, drinking (and perhaps also making love) is time that can be used instead for spiritual exercises.  For a Muslim, this period of reflection will most certainly include reading the Quran.  For my readers who are not Muslim and who want to adopt a practice similar to that of Ramadan for their own personal development, they may not wish to read the Quran, but I suggest it would be a very good idea to spend time reading spiritual works of one kind or another.

Just as bad deeds are strictly forbidden during Ramadan, good deeds are particularly encouraged.  This includes, but is certainly not limited to, giving generously to charity.  And "charity" is also very broadly defined anyway in this sense.  For example, when the fast is broken after sunset it is considered good to share one's food with others.  In many cases this is simply with family and friends, much as Americans share the blessings of the earth with family and close friends at Thanksgiving, but it is also considered good to share with those who may not be able to afford the good food you have perhaps kept aside for breaking your fast.

Now that you are more aware of what is involved in Ramadan, please try to remember this when talking and making arrangements with Muslim friends.  For example, remember that they are not allowed to eat or drink during the day, so please do not try to invite them to lunch, or even to dinner if it is early in the evening before the sun has set.

If you have read this far and are interested in any form of self development I hope you have seen that the practices of pious Muslims during their festival of Ramadan might be a good thing to practise in order to accelerate that self development.  It may even be that some Muslims will look at their own practices during Ramadan and realize they should be using their time during Ramadan more effectively for their own spiritual development. 

If you are not a Muslim you may simply wish to pick out certain aspects as outlined above and see if you can incorporate them in your own practices.  But if you have Muslim friends maybe a good way to do this would be to ask them if they would mind if you tried to share their spiritual practices with them during Ramadan.  Don't push it if they seem less than enthusiastic, but you may find they like the idea and are very willing to share their beliefs and practices.  If so, this should not only help you develop practices which I strongly believe will help you in your self development, but also strengthen your friendship with Muslim acquaintances and increase your understanding of their faith.  Anything that increases understanding between people of different faiths has to be a very good thing in a world in which misunderstandings and prejudices are so common.

11 comments:

  1. Very good article.I'm Muslim and i think the information which you share is absolutely correct and similar to our believes.Ramadan is the month of self control and remembering our Creator and to pray to Him.

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    1. Very true. Nice post.

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    2. Thank you Vania. It means a lot to me when I am told by a Muslim that I have interpreted Muslim beliefs correctly. Ramadan mubarak! :)

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  2. Thankful, Graham)))) As usual super useful knowledge)))))

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  3. You are most welcome Anastasiya. I am glad you have found it useful! :)

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  4. very usefull article. thank you Graham. May I share to my friends?

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    1. Yes Agus. Please share this with all your friends. Thank you. :)

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